The beauty of the Columbia River Gorge beckons two million tourists each year. Straddling the Washington and Oregon state lines about an hour’s drive from Portland, “the Gorge” serves as an escape for harried city dwellers. The National Scenic Area protects a 70-mile canyon and is known for its stunning views of snow-capped Mount Hood, majestic waterfalls and the mighty Columbia River itself. Thrill seekers, nature aficionados and spa devotees flock to the region, which is home to numerous spas and resorts. And because tourism thrives, spa owners are consistently marketing to new clientele in addition to locals seeking relaxing getaways. Here’s a look at how four Columbia River Gorge spas use the area’s popularity to their advantage.
Ruby’s Spa & Salon at McMenamins Edgefield Troutdale, Oregon
Built in 1911, the historic Edgefield hotel is one of several well known McMenamins establishments throughout Oregon and Washington. The 74-acre property is teeming with pastimes, including lush gardens, a brewery and several restaurants. The Ruby’s Spa sign, bright red and easy to spot, points guests in the right direction; a collection of Renaissance-style art keeps them entertained along the way.
A full-service facility, the multi-floor Ruby’s Spa & Salon offers everything from hot towel shaves to full-body massages. The hotel’s grounds are open to the public, but only spa guests are allowed to use the soaking pool to ensure privacy and exclusivity. “We do get a lot of people traveling to visit us,” says Cathy Pappas, corporate spa director, who notes that bridal parties and business guests in particular appreciate that they don’t have to depart the property for leisure thanks to the resort’s golf course, winery, brewery and, of course, spa.
Ruby’s day guests, too, often find it hard to leave. In fact, locals make up about 60 percent of the spa’s client base, which Pappas credits to exceptional customer service from her staff . “We strive to remember each guest by name,” says the spa pro, who adds that personal touches, like a complimentary glass of local wine during a pedicure, help charm clients. Another way spa staff keep residents coming back is with a loyalty card, allowing guests to earn a massage or facial after they’ve purchased six. “Freebies excite clients,” says Pappas.
When it comes to advertising, she places trust in the hotel’s marketing department to do much of the footwork, keeping them informed of current promotions. Updating the spa website consistently is crucial, she notes, especially since Ruby’s Spa offers discounted monthly services.
In managing her team of 32 employees, Pappas says that regular communication is key to making her busy spa successful. “I don’t manage them all the same,” Pappas explains. “I want to treat each individual differently, but I also want to keep work and our spa environment professional and fun. Everyone is here for a purpose.”
Waterleaf Spa at Skamania Lodge Stevenson, Washington
With clear views of the rushing Columbia River, Skamania Lodge welcomes guests to its secluded, forested escape. For more than 20 years, the 175-acre property has been a destination for business events, conferences, weddings and honeymoons. In 2016, two separate tree house accommodations were added for visitors seeking a truly natural ambience amid lush forest scenery.
Waterleaf Spa itself has four treatment spaces (including a nail room, facial room and massage room) plus an indoor pool, wet sauna, Jacuzzi tub, adults-only outdoor hot tub, sun deck and a sanctuary room with vistas of the area’s rolling hills.
When Katrina Eichner took the helm as spa, wellness and retail manager in September 2016, she explored unique ways to serve more clients. She and her staff dreamed up a special service for the lodge’s tree house accommodations. “Treatments Among the Trees” enable guests staying in the refi ned, rustic tree houses—just a short walk from the lodge and spa—to receive private spa sessions on their decks, right within nature. The menu, set to launch in the next few months, will include the Columbia River Rock Massage (50-80 min./$140-$200), which incorporates BodyRocks, massage tools handcrafted from local river rocks.
Bliss at the Balch at the Historic Balch Hotel Dufur, Oregon
In June 2015, Claire Sierra and her husband Josiah Dean purchased the Historic Balch Hotel located in the golden, rural, farmland community of Dufur, Oregon. Along with the 18-room property came a petite, 120-square-foot massage room. “I felt that by offering a variety of spa services, it would give guests an opportunity to relax and take care of themselves,” says Sierra, who is a licensed esthetician, massage therapist and serves as the spa and wellness director. “Sometimes what people really need is downtime to do a whole lot of nothing.”
In a town with a population of just 600 people, 90 percent of Sierra’s clientele are tourists. Sierra tries to encompass truly unique options—even as a solo practitioner with a one-room day spa. Sometimes, she says, that means thinking outside the box.
Case in point: the upcoming “Entering the Healing Temple” event. Sierra will bring together five alternative healing practitioners for a full day, during which quiet time and facilitated group discussions will be interwoven with one-on-one massage therapy, reiki and palm reading sessions. “It gives us a feeling that we’re in the space together, helping one another,” Sierra says of these community events. “I think networking meetings are really important, especially for women.”
The spa is also known for its unique facial treatments—such as the Gem Reiki Facial (90 min./$120)—as well as reflective and creative activities designed to settle the mind, body and soul. For some, that means taking in views of Mount Hood while strolling hotel grounds; for others it’s participating in art therapy. “Women in particular are often remiss in their own self-care,” says Sierra. “What I’m doing is reminding them that they are important, and that they deserve to take care of themselves.”
The Spa at Water’s Edge at Mid-Columbia Medical Center The Dalles, Oregon
Despite its medical facility exterior, a relaxing internal ambiance and a seamless blend between The Spa at Water’s Edge and Mid-Columbia Medical Center makes it easy for patients and guests alike to unwind once inside. When the medical center first opened in 1997, the administration’s vision included incorporating massage into patient healing, but it wasn’t until June 2010 that the plan became a reality. Over time, the spa developed into a wellness center, bringing with it a slew of spa services. “It was quite a visionary step,” says Barb Robison, director of mind and body medicine. “The philosophy is very holistic. We’re trained to make this a balance between a resort spa and a medical spa where clients feel luxury in their health care.”
An added benefit and challenge of the spa’s connection to a medical center is working with insurance companies. Although it’s a complex system for a spa, it can be done, Robison notes, as nearly 50 percent of the spa’s clients go through their insurance. “That certainly sets us apart; we’ve undoubtedly seen an increase in insurance companies covering massage as a wellness benefit.” Other services on the menu include hydrotherapy, facials, body treatments and mind-body workshops. Some of these sessions are covered for clients by financial scholarships sponsored by the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation as a way to increase patient accessibility.
Twice a year, a registered nurse teaches an in-depth, mindfulness-based stress reduction program, founded on ancient and modern evidence-based research. The two-hour course ($199) meets once a week for eight weeks and offers meditative yoga and other mindfulness relaxation techniques to serve patients struggling with anxiety, depression, cancer, sleep disorders and other conditions.
The spa also offers complimentary meditation and breath work classes every month, which attract locals interested in learning more about calming the mind. It’s good for business to offer some freebies, Robison notes, adding that about half of those who attend the complimentary courses come back for the spa’s eight week meditation course. “We need more of those classes in the nation,” says Robison. “It’s a strong addition to any spa, and an excellent way to bring in foot traffic.”
–by Seraine Page